Mike & Joyces Travel logs

Home ** 2007 Travel Logs**


Places Visited: Montana: Driving from Helena to Townsend then driving south on River Road visiting the Red Bluffs and Yorks Islands of Lewis and Clark fame, then driving out to Toston Dam on the Missouri River and more Lewis and Clark places of note, then a visit to Canyon Ferry Lake and Dam on the Missouri River 10 miles east of Helena

July 29-30, 2007.

We are staying in Lincoln Road RV-Park Helena, MT less than a mile west of I-15 at exit 200. Lincoln Road RV-Park is about 10-miles north of downtown Helena but in a very good position access everything in the area. $25.04 with Good Sam discount plus-taxes for FHU in nice gravel pull-thru sites with some shade. Free wifi was available but no cable TV. The free wifi was available but you had to take your laptop to the office (it wasn't available from your RV).




In East Helena we ran across an unexpected place ---- the preserved homestead of the areas first settler. It seems that during the summer of 1864 (note this was during the Civil War) a wagon train from Iowa heading west for the Oregon country stopped in this area to rest and repair their wagons before crossing the Rocky Mountains. Take note that this wagon train was heading for Oregon but they were not traveling on the "Oregon Trail".




Among these pioneers were Jonathan and Elmira Manlove and their two small children. They liked the Prickly Pear Valley and decided to stay behind and make this their home.

Their first dwelling was this log house. Part of the East Helena Townsite was once their potato field and pasture, still called the Manlove Grove.

They never left the Prickly Pear area and were the first permanent settlers in what is now Lewis & Clark County. This without any doubt is the oldest structure in the county.






From the small town of East Helena we are able to look north and see smoke from the Meriwether forest fire. Last nights news said the fire had consumed 10-square miles and would probably continue burning until winter snow put it out.





















While the fire looks so close it is actually over 20-miles north of us. Distances are so deceiving out here.
















The mountains across Canyon Ferry Lake (10-miles east of Helena) are the Big Belts. The gulches that cut these mountains were prodigious gold producers in the 1860s. The most famous of them was Confederate Gulch at the southern end of the range. Discovered in 1864 by four ex-Confederate soldiers, the diggings proved to be among the richest in Montana. Confederate Gulch produced over $15-million in gold. Gold was so abundant that in one instance it clogged the miner's sluces while others made $1,000 per-pan of gravel. One miner later recalled seeing ungarded nail kegs filled with gold dust. By late 1867, Diamond City boasted a population of over 5,000 people and a reputation as the wealthiest, most rip-roaring and toughest mining camp in the territory. The boom collapsed in 1870 and the gulch was all but deserted by 1885. Today, little remains of one of Montana's richest and most colorful mining camps.


Sometimes, I don't understand information I am provided. The Confederate Gulch was discovered by ex-Confederate soldiers in the midst of the Civil War! Ex-Confederate Soldiers, how can their be Ex-Confederate soldiers when the war didn't end until April of 1865. Am I missing something? They sound more like deserters or "Confederate-Deserters" or some such moniker. I am sure some of you educated souls can help with my misunderstanding.






Not far south of Helena we started seeing wheat fields. Some irrigated and some not.













This is alfalfa in a well irrigated field.














This is mowed alfalfa hay that is drying in the field prior to being baled.













Huge bales of alfalfa hay with a large field of cut alfalfa hay being dried prior to being baled.













Field after field of alfalfa, thousands of acres are being harvested in this irrigated valley that is being watered by the Canyon Ferry Lake Dam system.










In this area alfalfa has given way to a large field of grain. We think it is spring wheat (white wheat) judging from the light color---but we certainly don't know that.


















Another beautiful field of wheat.







Then there is this huge area that is not being farmed.













As we approach Townsend alfalfa fields reappear.

















Near Townsend the entire valley is a pastoral setting.




The Missouri River flows under US-278 the road we have been driving south on. On the north side of the river we turn west and follow River Road along the western bank of the Missouri. It should be noted that the Missouri River flows from south to north in this area of Montana. We are on the west side of the river to visit several locations mentioned in journals of the Lewis & Clark Expedition.



The first of the locations mentioned in journals of the expedition are the "Red Bluffs". It is hot, as in 100-degrees when we arrive at the "Red-Bluffs". The sign says it is a short walk to the bluffs. I am determined to see the bluffs we have driven especially since we are 5-miles down this dusty gravel River Road. I put on a wide brim hat and we head out.


Half way to the river Joyce took this picture looking to the south (upriver) of the Missouri River. We thought we might be seeing York's Islands but York's Islands turned out to be just a little further upriver that we can see in this picture.

Also, the "short-walk" turned out to be a hike and it was HOT, miserably hot! But we continued on determined to see the "Crimson-Cliff" described in those journals.




"From the river, the bluffs' iron laden earth is a vibrant red when lit by the sun's early morning rays" read one Journal.

Sgt. Gass noted in his journal on the same day,"...passed a bank of very red earth, which ...the natives use for paint..."


At long last we are at those red cliffs. This is the best view I can get of the red-cliff from the top of the cliff. In this view we are looking north (downstream) from the western side of the Missouri.











Meriwether Lewis' Journal entry of July 24, 1805: "Set out at sunrise, the current very strong; passed a remarkable bluff of a crimson coloured earth on Starboard intermixed with stratos of black and brick red slate...".



















Imagine canoeing against the Missouri's current never sure what may be around the next bend. These red-hued cliffs on the west side of the Missouri River must have been a pleasant surprise for the Corps of Discovery on that early summer morning in late July 1805.


Not far upriver from these red-cliffs (upriver is south) will be York's Islands another landmark noted in the journals. You will recall that York was Clark's slave that accompanied him on the expedition. We took a picture from the top of the cliff looking upriver thinking we were getting a picture of York's Islands but we later discovered that they were a few miles further upriver that we had suspected.










These appear to be York's Islands as best as we can tell. Information along the road is nonexistent but from mileage indications this appears to be the area. The best way to to see this area would be to float down the Missouri like some people are doing today.













Joyce took this panorama of the valley about 8-miles south of Townsend looking south. The eastern side of the Missouri along here is agriculture predominantly hay production.















From here that 200-acre pivot irrigation system appears to be producing alfalfa.




At this time it seems appropriate to provide more information on "York" (ca. 1770-1831). York is the only name given for Captain William Clark's slave in the journals of Lewis and Clark.

Lewis and Clark's journals frequently refer to York, a black slave to Captain William Clark. York played an important role in the success of the Corps of Discovery. The journals document how York tended to the sick, hunted and fished for food and contributed to wildlife observation. This muscular, black man's appearance was curious to the native people the Corps encountered and he gained their respect which helped the expedition. York was given an equal vote in the Corps' decision to winter at Fort Clatsop on the Pacific Ocean in 1805. York requested is freedom upon returning from the expedition citing his contributions to its success. However it would be another 5-years before William Clark gave him his freedom. Still, York remained a black man in a world of slavery and segregation, history has not fully revealed how successfully this man who traversed the continent was able to function in a society still developing its ideals of equality and freedom.

Two places in Montana were named in his honor: Yorks 8 Islands and Yorks Dry River (now Custer Creek) along the Yellowstone River. Today Yorks Islands are private property so the only way to really see them is to float down the Missouri River.

Keeping in mind that York became a "free-man" around 1811 and that was almost 50-years before the Civil War. I can only imagine that he was one of FEW black "free-men" at that time.










Possibly this view of one of those large pivot irrigation systems will give you a better idea of the size of these operations. From the dark green color it appears that this is a field of alfalfa.












This is the only irrigated field we saw on the WEST side of River Road. It looked to be a newly planted alfalfa field.

















Joyce took this picture because of all the interesting things it contained, such as; irrigation system, old fence post, thistle plants in bloom, the mowed alfalfa field, the line of trees along the banks of the Missouri River and finally the Belt Mountains in the distance. I hope that you enjoy this picture as much as she would like for you to.












Baled hay ready to be picked up.















This picture was taken downstream (north) of the Toston Dam 10-miles south of Townsend. Those are white pelicans you see in the river. Pelicans are a lot like dogs and cats, they spend a lot of time motionless. They begrudgingly move when hunger pangs strike.
















This is another group of white pelicans patiently waiting for the dinner bell.










The Lewis and Clark Expedition passed this way on their westward trek across the continent. Expedition members camped on the west side of the Missouri River on July 25, 1805 according to journal entries. Where they camped is a short distance upstream from present day Toston Dam.

Western Ranchers will be delighted to note that Captain Meriwether Lewis discovered and described stipa Comata, commonly known as needle & thread grass.

Captain Clark identified the large spring on a map. Today that large spring is located a half-mile downstream from the dam.













The rocky cliffs on either side of the dam were significant landmarks previously described to the expedition leaders by Indian informants at Fort Mandan where they wintered over with the Mandans. Fort Mandan is in present day North Dakota. The cliffs were described as the "little gates of the mountains," where in the informants terms, the second chain of Rocky Mountains approached the river. We have already visited the more notable "Gates of the Rocky Mountains" that were located about 25-miles north of Helena.













White pelicans below the Toston Dam on the Missouri River. These are not too far from the "big-spring" that Clark described in his journal.











The cliff on the other side of the Missouri is the beginning of the "little gates of the mountains," that the Mandan Indians had told Lewis and Clark about when the expedition wintered with them during the winter of 1804/1805.













Montana potatoes. We normally start seeing potato fields like this about 150-miles south of here in Idaho.
















The virtually abandoned town of Toston located on the Missouri River approximately 10-miles south of Townsend is accessed by this bridge over the Missouri River. Many bridges in Montana are one lane as this one is. Many of these old bridges also have wooden planks for decking, as this one does.














This is a picture of a marina on Canyon Ferry Lake located 10-miles southeast of Helena. It is created by a dam on the Missouri River. It is this reservoir that provides the water for all the irrigated farm land that you see in the pictures above.
















This is Canyon Ferry Lake (reservoir) looking south.












We see so many deer in this area.







Until next time remember how good life is.

Mike & Joyce Hendrix






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